January 2001 Volume 23 Number 1

Health and Safety

Chris Stavroudis, column editor

"In one word he told me secret of success...Plagiarize!"

I received the CD boxed set "The Remains of Tom Lehrer" for Christmas and I've been reveling in the nostalgia. And who could forget the verse from "The Wild West is Where I Want to Be" from 1953:

Mid the sagebrush and the cactus
I'll watch the fellers practice
Dropin' bombs through the clean desert breeze.
I'll have on my sombrero,
And of course I'll wear a pair o'
Levi's over my lead B.V.D.'s

Of interest to me, your health and safety column editor: radiation is no longer such a big concern, at least not while sojourning in the desert, but lead exposure is a worry.

I've written previous columns about lead, it's hazards, and how to deal with it. This column is a short and happy one, demonstrative of how simple it can be.

So, let's head to those wide open spaces of yesteryear (just think of Major T. J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickins) in Dr. Strangelove or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and read along with me):

I was a workin' on this here paintin'. It was a fine work, just needed a couple of extra tacks in the tacking margin.

Well, I tapped my tacks into place and, wouldn't ya know it, I noticed some white crumbles had falled on the floor below where I was workin. All that commotion had knocked a few specks of ground off o' the tacking margins, I guess.

I grabbed my trusty LeadCheck swab, crushed the self-contained ampoules, shook, squeezed a drop out onto them fibers and checked the fallout. Yup, it was lead, all right.

I didn't worry. I didn't hesitate neither. I grabbed my trusty HEPA vacuum and those crumbles of troublesome ground were history. "Twarn't no big deal.

Well, I think that's slim enough pickins or enough Slim Pickins.

The alternative to vacuuming up the dust from the tacking margins, what I dare say would have happened in those bad old days, would have been for the dust to have been crushed under foot for some time, reduced to a very fine dust and then swept up with a broom. This would have launched the finest particles into the air to settle onto surfaces and risk contaminating everyone.

The moral of the story: if you have a HEPA vacuum, use it. If you don't have one, get one. If you don't know it is safe, treat it as though it is hazardous.

So everyone, join with me in Tom Lehrer's biggest hit:

Pollution, pollution,
Wear a gas mask and a veil,
Then you can breathe,
long as you don't inhale

Chris Stavroudis is a conservator in private practice.

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